Scottish meat industry “at risk” as FSS raises costs – SAMW

Scottish meat industry “at risk” as FSS raises costs – SAMW

The Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) has declared the Scottish meat industry “at risk of being rendered uncompetitive to the rest of the UK” as Food Standards Scotland (FSS) raises vet and inspection costs.

Ian Bentley, president of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers.

According to SAMW, a price increase on 1st April by FSS of 20% for the provision of Official Veterinarians (OVs) and a 17% rise in the cost of Meat Hygiene Inspectors (MHIs) is “excessive and unacceptable”.

Ian Bentley, SAMW president, said: “The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in England and Wales is, in contrast, raising its OV rate by 4% and MHI rate by 10%, leaving both charges well below the levels our members are being required to pay.

“If the FSS increases are allowed to stand without any abatement, they will impact our businesses, the staff our members employ and the wider farm-based rural economy from which we draw our raw materials.”

SAMW said it had “discussed the issue” with senior staff at FSS and written to the Scottish Government Minister for Public Health, Jenni Minto, warning that the planned 20% and 17% cost increases “will have a detrimental effect on the industry” to the extent of “jeopardising member businesses competitiveness and sustainability”.

Bentley said: “Individual members are shocked at the level of OV and MHI increases they are now facing, especially when compared to their own efforts to keep processing plant cost rises closer to the 4% level which FSA is achieving.”

Members remain unimpressed

The Association also stated that a business owner had said he “would never be able to negotiate a 20% rise with his own customers” and would “never accept such an approach from a commercial supplier”. It maintained that another business executive had commented that “if FSS was his supplier in the commercial world then it wouldn’t be his supplier anymore”.

“We understand the pressures under which FSS has been operating, with its need to absorb the Scottish Government’s civil service wage rise of 7% for 2023/24 and the introduction of a 35-hour-week from October this year,” said Bentley. “According to FSS, this equates to a cost recovery requirement of £424,000.

“Our members are perfectly happy for the Scottish Government to take such steps, of course, especially if they can fund the increased costs. We just don’t see why we should pay for them.

“The other major cost increase, as identified by FSS, relates to difficulties it has experienced in recruiting sufficient OVs and MHIs to operate the statutory controls in Scottish red meat plants. While, ideally, these posts should be filled by employed staff, FSS has relied ‘as a temporary measure’ on agency and locum staff at an additional cost to their budget of £407,000.”

Bentley continued: “Here again, member companies do not see why they should be required to pay for this ‘temporary’ cost, caused by the described recruitment ‘difficulties’.”

SAMW went on to highlight that the Scottish red meat sector “benefits from an annual discount of charges”, worth £1.07 million, a measure which acknowledges the industry’s contribution of £1 billion a year to the Scottish economy and a direct employment base of over 3000 people.

“We firmly believe therefore that a strong rationale exists for the industry discount to be temporarily increased to offset the £831,000 added burden we are currently facing, a request we have already made to the Scottish Government,” said Bentley.

“We are also seeking, even at this 11th hour, a postponement of the April 1st increases to allow the matter to be examined and discussed in greater detail than has been possible since the 20% and 17% figures were presented to us on March 7th.”

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